(Updated at noon with new data – see italics below.)
The Obama administration's move to set strict guidelines for further aid to U.S. automakers – and to throw G.M. chief Rick Wagoner under the bus – makes great sense in terms of public opinion. The loans are not popular; the auto industry's leaders, even less so.
The administration's tough line matches with public attitudes on corporate conduct overall: Eighty percent of Americans in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll blame large business corporations for a role in the country's economic crisis – with nearly six in 10 saying they deserve "a great deal" of blame for the situation. And it's gotten the public's dander up: Nearly seven in 10, 68 percent, say they're "angry" at the role major corporations have played in the recession.
Notably, the public's ire crosses partisan lines, in what’s otherwise a highly partisan time. Eight in 10 Democrats, Republicans and independents alike assign blame to large corporations. And resulting anger ranges from nearly two-thirds of Republicans (64 percent) to nearly three-quarters of Democrats (73 percent) – sizable majorities across the board. (More on our full poll to come…)
Specific to Detroit, in a question we asked in an ABC/Post poll in December, just 22 percent of Americans thought the automakers’ troubles were chiefly caused by the bad economy; 75 percent, instead, attributed them to poor management. That's a key reason majorities consistently have opposed government loans to keep G.M. and Chrysler afloat.
CBS asked a similar question last month, with a similar result – by 63-24 percent Americans faulted the automakers’ management, rather than economic factors beyond their control, as the main cause of their problems. In a CNN poll in February, just 26 percent were confident in auto industry executives to make the right decisions for the economy; 74 percent, not confident. And in a December CNN poll, 82 percent expressed a negative opinion of automaker executives overall.
The industry's workers, as opposed to its leadership, have been far better rated. That underscores the administration's challenge in dealing with corporate basket cases from Wall Street to Detroit: protecting the economy and preserving jobs without being seen as bailing out errant executives. Given that imperative – as well as G.M. and Chrysler's objective condition – the decision on Wagoner, and the tight conditions on further automaker loans, look like an easy call.